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Sweet Escapes

Yearning for a vacation? Try some virtual traveling, with an LGBTQ twist


We’re all armchair tourists now.

Since March, we’ve been hoping that easy vacation travel was only a speed bump away. But the reality is, well – complicated, because of the continuing COVID-19 crisis that has made airplane travel, border crossings and destination requirements problematic, to say the least.
So how does one satisfy an LGBTQ wanderlust in the meantime?

While it’s certainly no substitute, I’ve found that certain downloads and streams of films and series set in beautiful faraway places can make for a diverting escape from politics and the pandemic.

While it’s unlikely we can fly away to exotic locales, cruise the high seas and party like it’s 2019 anytime soon, here are some virtual vacations you might enjoy in absentia:

The Talented Mr. Ripley

What is it? A 1999 psychological thriller film written and directed by Anthony Minghella, an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel. It stars Jude Law, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate Blanchett.

What’s it about? A tycoon mistakes a charming sociopath Tom Ripley (Damon) for a preppy friend of his playboy son and hires him to persuade the lad to return to America. Ripley gets caught up in the lush life abroad – and affairs, intrigue, identity swapping and a murder or two (or three) soon play out among the filthy rich.

Escapist aspect: 1950s Italian elegance amid yachts, swanky hotels and very beautiful people. The film was shot in Venice, Rome, Anzio, the cliffside resort town of Positano, and various villages on the islands of Ischia and Procida, near Naples.

A touch of gay: Bisexual intrigue and a hot killer man-to-man kiss by Matt Damon.

Worth the trip? It’s great to travel first class and this film is platinum status all the way.

Summer Lovers

What is it? A 1982 American romantic comedy film written and directed by Randal Kleiser, starring Peter Gallagher, Daryl Hannah and Valerie Quennessen.

What’s it about? A young couple from Connecticut graduate college, spend the summer on the Greek island of Santorini and explore their libidos.

Escapist aspect: Filmed on location on Santorini. Other scenes were filmed on the islands of Crete, Delos and Mykonos, all featuring gorgeous skies, glistening white homes and nude swimming.

A touch of gay: A threesome relationship complicates paradise.

Worth the trip? Ah, the ‘80s, with carefree youths, Peter Gallagher before the eyebrows went rogue, and lithe Daryl Hannah before she made her “Splash.” There’s a great pop score, too.

The Durrells [in Corfu]

What is it? A four-season British comedy-drama series inspired by Gerald Durrell’s three autobiographical books about his family’s four years (1935-1939) on the Greek Island of Corfu. The series, which ran from 2016 to 2019 on PBS, is written by Simon Nye and directed by Steve Barron and Roger Goldby. It stars Keeley Hawes, Milo Parker, Josh O’Connor, Daisy Waterstone, Callum Woodhouse and Alexis Georgoulis. Available on Amazon Prime.

What’s it about? A British widow and her four self-possessed, nonconformist children escape dire circumstances in Bournemouth, England to live cheaply in Corfu. They adapt to a spartan and challenging – but also happy and gorgeous – life there among Greeks and other expatriates.

Escapist aspect: Breathtaking scenery of various places around the island.

Of note: Josh O’Connor, who plays oldest son Larry, went on to play Prince Charles in “The Crown” and starred in the 2017 gay indie film “God’s Own Country.”

A touch of gay: Some hunky men, beautiful women and even a same-sex romance.

Worth the trip? The setting is sun-drenched (once they get out of England) and the family eccentric and warm-hearted. It’s my all-around favorite feel-good escape during the pandemic. The 26 episodes were the perfect antidote for these sequestered times.   I might watch the series all over again, too.

Call Me by Your Name

What is it? A 2017 coming-of-age romantic drama film directed by Luca Guadagnino. Its Oscar-winning screenplay is by James Ivory, based on the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. It stars Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, and Victoire Du Bois.

What’s it about? Set in 1983 in northern Italy, the film chronicles the romantic relationship between 17-year-old Elio Perlman and hunky Oliver (a 24-year-old graduate-student assistant to Elio’s father, an archaeology professor), who comes to live with the family one summer.

Escapist aspect: The film was shot mainly in Crema, Lombardy, in northern Italy.

Of note: The film features two lovely original songs by American singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens.

A touch of gay:  It is a sophisticated, nuanced gay coming-of-age film. Two scenes are frequently mentioned: the peach/masturbation scene is one; but a more important one is the gorgeous monologue by Michael Stuhlbarg as the youth’s father, consoling his heartbroken son with delicately chosen words that would make him father-of-the-year to any queer kid. (I thought he’d get the Oscar for that scene alone.)

Worth the trip: Instead of a picture-postcard perfection, the film’s landscapes are naturally imperfect and somehow feel more real, more approachable and just as inviting.

The Great Beauty

What is it? A 2013 Italian art drama film co-written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino.

What’s it about? Jep Gambardella is a seasoned and socially connected journalist, critic, bon vivant “and Roman sensualist.” But at 65, he sees the superficiality of his world and his life as mundane. News of the death of a long-ago lover sends him on a peripatetic, poetic and meditative journey of his past, present and future.

Escapist aspect: It’s a love letter to Rome.

Of Note: The film begins with a quote from Céline’s “Journey to the End of the Night”: “Traveling is useful, it exercises the imagination. All the rest is disappointment and fatigue. Our journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength.” Speaks to our times now, no?

Worth the trip? The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, as well as the Golden Globe and the BAFTA awards in the same category. Deservedly so. And you won’t want to miss the soulful performance by Italian actor Toni Servillo in the role of Jep.

A touch of gay: Only in the sense of appreciating great beauty of a city and its people, from sensual statues to its fashionistas.

Under the Tuscan Sun

What is it? A 2003 American romantic comedy-drama film written, produced, and directed by Audrey Wells and starring Diane Lane and Sandra Oh. Based on Frances Mayes’ 1996 memoir.

What’s it about? After being cheated on by an unfaithful husband, a divorce, the loss of her home and getting writer’s block, an American seeks an escape to Tuscany and finds herself the owner of a lovely-yet-dilapidated villa. Ups and downs, romance, wine and a wedding follow.

Escapist aspect: Florence, Rome, Siena, Cortona, Arezzo, Salerno and other spots in Tuscany.

Worth the trip? It’s a formulaic and lightweight tale that you can gather from the trailer alone. But Lane and Oh are charming and the peaceful setting is better than a prescription of Ativan.

A touch of gay: Oh, as Lane’s best buddy, is a lesbian. Several heterosexual romances fill the plot but the whole spectrum of genders might find Raoul Bova a cool drink of Prosecco.

And Just a Few More…

These following movies and television shows also take us away from it all, though not necessarily with a LGBTQ component: “Enchanted April,” “Roman Holiday,” “It Takes a Thief,” “End of the Century,” and “Brideshead Revisited.” And, of course, there are all those LGBTQ couples searching for vacation homes in the hundreds of episodes of HGTV’s “House Hunters International,” or its much better series, “Mediterranean Life” and “Off the Grid.”